By Rev. Hilton Gomes
None of us would have imagined a year ago that we were going to be faced with one of the biggest challenges in this century – a global pandemic. There weren’t any kind of guidelines or policies in place to help us deal with it or to respond to it. So what have we been doing?
We’ve been learning to do our best. It’s been amazing to see how we, as healthcare workers, embraced this “invisible enemy” and are trying to make it our ally.
You may ask why our “ally?” Let me try to explain.
From my former, now already deceased parishioner, Bill Varga I learned that hardships bring us closer. Bill was a Hungarian immigrant and a few times he spoke to me about the great recession and how it brought people closer. The time of pandemic has also brought suffering for many and questions that had led some people to go astray and to leave their faith. Who thought that we would all be here guessing if we should not give a hug, a kiss, go to see mom, dad, grandpa, grandma and grandchildren without worrying about the possibility of being a COVID vector without knowing? What do we say to a mother who loses her 30 year-old son who was suddenly diagnosed with COVID and a few weeks later dies, leaving a wife and children. Why are good people getting infected, dying…?
Daily we deal with these questions. For many they represent an obstacle that prevents a relationship with Christ. So, what do we do? What do we say?
We serve. We spend time. We pray. We silence our mouth and try to listen to God’s voice leading us and helping us to find the answer that so many times we don’t have.
More than ever COVID is telling us that we are called to “BE”; to be that wife, husband, spouse, partner, companion, deacon, priest, bishop, son, daughter, friend, co-worker, neighbour, that we truly want to be. COVID brought me back to my ordination and wedding day. I made a promise, before God and people, to live my life in a way that another world would be possible. A better one.
COVID brings to my memory all those days when I was called to go to a family gathering and because I was “so busy” I said no. COVID is teaching me, and I hope is teaching you too, not to take anything in this life for granted. Life, time, family, friends, faith, love, are gifts given by God to be lived and shared with an intensity as if it were the last day that we are living.
No, we were not prepared for this pandemic; we are all learning how to respond to it. Some days our response is better than others. Sometimes we just don’t know how to respond, so we contemplate and pray. Sometimes it is all we can do.
Is God using this time to wake us up so we can start to appreciate a little more the presence of one another? I don’t know. What I know is I dream of the day when we have a cure for this virus and we will all be able to gather again, we will be able to go to church and give that hug to our brother, sister, friend, family members. Remember that “holy mess” that we usually do during the sign of peace, the one that drives some clergy crazy? I miss that “mess’ more than ever now. What about you?
Working as a chaplain for almost three years, I have been learning that my ministry (I don’t like to call it a job) at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare in Windsor, is not about bringing God into peoples’ lives. It would be too presumptuous of me – God was there way before me – but I truly believe that my call is to make Him known to people.
It is incredible when we see someone that is so frustrated and angry with God and weeks later comes to you and humbly asks, “Would you marry my wife and I?” Or “Can you be here for a little while longer? I think my hour is coming”, and minutes later that person dies holding your hand because you became a family to that person, and in many cases their only family. No words can describe what goes through our minds and our hearts when we experience that.
Dealing with COVID and cancer patients at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare has given me some life changing experiences that enhanced my understanding of priesthood, something valuable that all the years I spent in the seminary reading and studying were not able to give me. All this has shown me how “pequeno” (little) I am. How fragile we are. At the end we have no control over anything.
COVID crisis is helping me to understand that one day, with God’s blessings, when I go back to church ministry, I will be able to develop a better kind of “diakonia” with the help of those that I am going to serve with. All the power, all our youth, all our priesthood is worth nothing if we don’t serve others.
It would be impossible to be able to do what I do, or better to be who I am at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, if I didn’t have the team that I have. Paulette Jagatic, Emily Warlock and the tireless support of my family, especially Sandy, my wife. These people are great pillars that help us to be able to provide the support that our brothers and sisters, at one time strangers, need. It makes the Gospel of Matthew become alive: “I was sick and you visited me” (Mt 25:36). In your prayers, please pray for us.
I would like to end my article with a line from a poem that is attributed to St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I strongly ask you to find it and use it for your own meditation. It’s called Do it Anyway. She says:
“Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.”
Rev. Hilton Gomes is a chaplain at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, Windsor.